Cordwainer Smith’s novelette “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” is a central component of his future history, marking the onset of the period he called the Rediscovery of Man. Though it has come to be regarded as a classic, the story’s title, the behavior and fate of its central characters, and its underlying autobiographical sources have all retained an air of mystery. This paper argues that in writing “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” Smith confronted his feelings about his divorce from his first wife, stressed the value of simple human kindness in his treatment of others, and thereby dissolved a serious and years-long writer’s block.
TheAtlantic.com published an article marking the centenary of Cordwainer Smith. My own article in Science Fiction Studies, “Building Alpha Ralpha Boulevard,” was published pretty close to Linebarger’s centenary, July 11, 2013.
Fans and scholars have been intrigued not only by Alice Bradley Sheldon’s sustained disguise as the male writer James Tiptree, Jr., but by her earlier activities in the secret world of Army Air Force Intelligence and the CIA. Less attention has been given to her major pursuit between her careers in intelligence and sf: graduate work, teaching, and research in experimental psychology. Though her work in psychology represented the fulfillment of long-term goals, she was forced to give it up because of health problems and psychological pressures. Her subsequent fiction often displayed the influence of her psychological training and interests. Earlier life experiences may have shaped both her career in psychology and her career as a writer.
In the spring of 1957, Paul Linebarger began to imagine the broad outlines of his first (and, as matters would turn out, his only) science fiction novel. Linebarger’s earlier published fiction had come to him quickly: two mainstream novels had each been written in a few weeks, and a suspense novel had taken months at most. He had also written several shorter pieces of science fiction, published under the pseudonym of Cordwainer Smith. Though their gestation time is unknown, each had taken Linebarger only a few hours or days to set down on paper. But his science fiction novel was different. Like the giant sick sheep that it would describe in its early pages, it swelled in size and developed in peculiar directions.
Super-intelligent cats populated Paul Linebarger’s fictional worlds even before he acquired the pseudonym of Cordwainer Smith. Other essential elements of his science fiction may be found as early as the first Cordwainer Smith story, ‘Scanners Live in Vain’ (1950): strange survivals from various eras of post-nuclear-holocaust civilization; humans physically altered to withstand the rigors of space travel; the time- and space-spanning government known as the Instrumentality of Mankind. But the underpeople did not begin to develop until his career as Cordwainer Smith was half over, and he completed every major underpeople story during a three-year period (1961-63). Why did the underpeople emerge at this time, and what was their significance for their creator?
In America and around the world, the best-known depiction of future Australians is the Mad Max film trilogy. Among science fiction readers in America if not elsewhere, the best-known print depiction of future Australians is probably Cordwainer Smith’s novel “Norstrilia”. You pays your money and you takes your choice, and of course most people have chosen Mad Max. If I were Australian, I’d hope more people would choose “Norstrilia”.
Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt thou the Big Bang set them all aflame;
Doubt thou the second law of thermodynamics will extinguish every final flickering photon in 10/1000 years, give or take a few trillion millennia,
But never doubt I love…..
As announced at Readercon 22 last weekend, the 2011 Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award went to Katherine MacLean. A good choice,…
This paper, which originally appeared in the scholarly journal Science-Fiction Studies in 1984, was my first publication on the science…
Steve Silberman, a contributing editor for Wired magazine, has posted an excellent article about Cordwainer Smith on his new blog…